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Why Did Singapore Ban Vapes? Reasons Behind the Ban on E-Cigarettes

Goh Jun Cheng

In 2017, Singapore imposed a blanket ban on electronic vaporizers and e-cigarettes, joining other nations like Brazil, Thailand and India taking a tough stance. But why did Singapore move to prohibit vaping after initially allowing it?

This article examines the health, social and commercial factors that culminated in the vape prohibition.

Background on E-Cigarettes in Singapore

E-cigarettes were gaining popularity in Singapore as an alternative to smoking, especially among youths. When vaping first emerged, Singapore took a permissive approach. However, this openness led to unregulated growth of e-cigarette use, prompting a policy reversal.

Initial Unregulated Status

When e-cigarettes first emerged in the mid-2010s, they fell into a grey area in Singapore. Policymakers were unsure how to regulate these novel devices. Hence, e-cigarettes were neither banned nor legalized during the initial years. Imports and sales existed in a gray zone subject to customs rules on prohibited imports. Many started vaping assuming it was tolerated.

Increased Youth Adoption

The lack of regulation saw e-cigarette usage rise rapidly, especially among teenagers and young adults who found vaping trendy. Its concealed nature enabled discreet use in schools and public areas. Surveys showed more youths took up vaping compared to smoking. Reports of health issues and addiction in young users generated concern. Regulators realized laissez-faire policies had led to unfettered youth vaping.

Gateway Fears

Authorities worried that e-cigarette usage would lead to subsequent smoking among impressionable youths. The wide availability of vaporizers was thought to increase the likelihood of teenagers transitioning to cigarettes after being introduced via vaping, contrary to the desired outcome. Limiting youth access became an urgent priority.

Commercial Imports and Sales

The lack of rules also resulted in rampant imports and sales by local retailers and online sellers seeking to profit from the vaping trend. With no restrictions, vendors aggressively marketed e-cigarettes and their paraphernalia. Flavored liquids were sold in attractive packaging, enticing youths. Clamping down on such commercial exploitation gained urgency.

Factors Behind the Ban

Confronted by these dilemmas, Singapore eventually imposed a total prohibition in 2018 after concluding the harms outweighed benefits:

Public Health Risks

While seen as less harmful than smoking combustible cigarettes, health risks from vaping itself could not be ignored given chemical inhalation. Side effects like lipoid pneumonia raised red flags, especially among youths. The addictive nature of nicotine also troubled authorities. Preventing an unhealthy new norm became imperative.

Protecting Young People

However, the key catalyst was protecting young Singaporeans from a vaping culture. With teen usage rates approaching epidemic levels, bold intervention became necessary beyond gentle deterrence. An outright ban would unequivocally deny access and stop youth vaping from escalating beyond control.

Commercial and Illicit Sales

Banning devices and liquids also shut the door on licensed and black-market sales driven by the profit motive rather than public welfare. Policymakers felt it would be impossible to regulate sellers effectively given the variety of hardware and concoctions. Thus, ending all private sales was the safest option.

Scope for Abuse

Leaving the door open to vaping also risked unintended abuse. Vapes could be modified for usage with cannabis and other illicit drugs. Shutting this potential pandora’s box through strict prohibition had appeal for law enforcers. There were also concerns vapor clouds could disturb public spaces.

Reversing Normalization

More philosophically, regulators worried that allowing vaping would normalize addiction-causing behaviours and substances for the next generation. Upholding Singapore’s strict anti-smoking stance meant rejecting such trends. There were calls to avoid sending mixed signals on recreational drug habits, especially among the impressionable young. Outlawing rather than legitimizing vaping was aligned with societal norms.

Conclusion

In summary, the initial under-regulation of e-cigarettes allowed sales and usage to spiral, necessitating tough corrective action. While recognizing vaping’s perceived harm-reduction benefits for existing smokers, safeguarding youths from new risky addictions trumped other considerations.

The ban reflected worries that liberalizing nicotine intake even through less harmful modes could potentially undo decades of anti-smoking progress in Singapore.

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